We talked about the emotions of this game earlier this week.
This is a big game for Memphis. Some say it’s always a big game when the Tigers face Ole Miss. I tend to agree, but it’s bigger this time.
Memphis has been a downtrodden football program of in recent years, and there’s a lot of evidence this season to suggest times are changing.
The Tigers have been efficient on both sides of the ball. They’ve beaten lesser teams soundly, and they almost picked off a top 10 team on the road a couple of weeks ago at UCLA.
They get another chance Saturday night.
Back in August when we looked ahead at the Ole Miss schedule I thought both Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette would be decent opposition. Certainly Boise would be, and the Broncos have won three straight since losing to Ole Miss on opening night.
As its turned out Vanderbilt, with a lot of experience back from teams that had won nine games in each of the last two seasons, has struggled under new coach Derek Mason, and the Cajuns, also with plenty of returning players, haven’t handled non-Sun Belt competition.
On paper it looks like Memphis will be the Rebels’ strongest test since Boise.
Most important in the Tigers’ turnaround – They’d won just four times in the previous four seasons – has been protecting the football. They’ve turned it over just three times.
They design plays on offense that allow a quick release from quarterback Paxton Lynch. At 6-foot-7 he has no trouble getting clear sight lanes, and he’s making good decisions.
Memphis skilled athletes at receiver, and it will get them involved in the run game with some misdirection that could hurt an Ole Miss defense that hasn’t had consistent gap fits this season. The Rebels will have to read their keys and be in the right places.
Memphis also has some athletes on defense that have made it tough for opponents to sustain drives.
The Tigers are rebuilding on the offensive line, but they still managed 469 yards and 35 points at UCLA, a game in which the teams were tied early in the fourth quarter.
That is impressive, but it’s worth noting that UCLA is presently ranked No. 73 in total defense at 392.3 yards per game allowed.
The Rebels have a deeper football team than Memphis, and they’ll rotate defensive linemen to keep them fresh.
This is a stout Ole Miss defense, but there’s always room to improve, and that’s against the run.
The Rebels need to assert themselves physically in this game. They need to control the line of scrimmage and not be lured out of position by thoughts of making a big hit. Chances are there’s a handoff or quick toss coming to bring the ball back the other way. The Rebels need to own their real estate, stay home and make the plays that come their way.
Emotion will be a big part of this game, and Memphis figures to have more manufactured emotion. This is a big game for the Tigers.
Ole Miss needs to be emotionally prepared, and that means keeping the hoopin’ and hollerin’ in check and coming out with a business-like approach that will lead to the efficiency the Rebels have shown on both sides of the ball the last two games.
Hugh Freeze and other coaches say you can get your team pumped up with emotion a handful of times a year.
The Rebels don’t need to spend one of those times against Memphis when they’ve got a bigger game with Alabama coming up next week.
While everyone outside the program keeps an eye on that Alabama game, Ole Miss players need to truly put two eyes on a Memphis team that is capable of an upset. The Rebels have said all the right things this week in terms of focus. Sometimes saying and doing are different things.
Freeze’s teams are prepared much more often than not, and I believe the Rebels will be this week.
Prediction: Ole Miss 33, Memphis 19